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Something to think about...by Superintendent Westerberg

Last year’s extreme weather forced school districts across the state to cancel classes numerous times.  As a result, the state legislature and Governor Walz passed a law allowing school districts to count up to five days of instruction using something called e-learning days.  E-learning allows students to continue learning while at home with the assistance of technology.  

A few school districts utilized e-learning days last year and more are planning to do so this year, if weather conditions require cancellations.  All schools I’ve researched having e-learning days have also implemented a 1:1 program where computers or tablets are sent home with secondary students, usually students in grades 6-12. During e-learning days, assignments are posted on a website and teachers are available online to answer questions during part of the day.  Since elementary students aren’t provided school-owned technology, students are given printed “choice cards” which lists several choices in each subject area for students to select as homework during the day. These choice cards are sent home prior to winter and are available online for parents and students to download. Due to the age of the students and lack of technology, teacher availability for assistance is more limited.

Successful implementation of e-learning days requires schools to plan for meeting the needs of special needs students when physically not in school.  Other issues to resolve include expectations for daycare providers and families with limited or no internet access. Overall, e-learning provides some level of learning while allowing districts to meet the legal requirements of the minimum days of attendance (165 days) and hours of instruction at each level (1020 for grades 6-12 and 950 for K-5) without extending the school year. 

For two reasons, Big Lake Schools won’t be implementing e-learning days this year. Our students do not currently have school issued computers available to them to take home. Starting next fall, the district will be implementing a 1:1 computing device to be taken home by secondary students.  Without this technology at home for all students, there would be limited electronic learning and inequity of opportunity for all students on e-learning days. Also, due to the school calendar adopted by the Big Lake School Board, e-learning days would rarely be used. For several years, the Big Lake School Board has exempted students from making up two cancelled dates.  In addition, the school calendar has three days built in as make up days. The last day of the school year is presently set for Thursday, May 28. If needed, the school year could be extended by one day and still end the school year before June. Combining all of these factors, it would take up to seven weather cancellations before e-learning days would be implemented in Big Lake.